The economics of longtail collecting

Longtail collecting is the painstaking process of acquiring fringe pieces to fill out a collection. Generally speaking, as you get into the longtail, you get into rarer and more expensive pieces. As a result, your average cost per pencil (ACPP) goes up with each successive shipment.

Here’s a look at how my ACPP has increased since June 2021 (with total number of pencils in parentheses):

  • June 2021: ¥899 (148)
  • July 2021: ¥672 (280)
  • Sep 2021: ¥875 (227)
  • Oct 2021: ¥1012 (123)
  • Nov 2021: ¥996 (188)
  • Dec 2021: ¥853 (222)
  • Jan 2022: ¥1392 (124)
  • Feb 2022: ¥1940 (94)
  • Apr 2022: ¥1948 (91)
  • Sep 2022: ¥3169 (56)
  • Oct 2022: ¥3415 (55)
  • Nov 2022: ¥4165 (48)
  • Nov 2022: ¥2661 (74)
  • Dec 2022: ¥4525 (44)
  • Feb 2023: ¥4847 (40)

When I was first starting out, I wanted to collect pieces from every manufacturer, and I also focused on keeping prices as low as possible.

At the time, I didn’t care too much about specimen quality outside of general condition (stickers and boxes were not important).

Back then, large lots were attractive because they enabled me to get hands-on with a lot of different pencils; plus, I barely owned anything, so most of these pencils were new to me (and could potentially end up as showpieces in the collection).

Of course, as I acquired more pencils, these large lots became less and less useful. By early 2022, I shifted my focus to specific pieces, and this is when the cost per pencil started to inflate.

Also, I had mostly refrained from getting high end pieces up to that point. But with the base of my collection in place, it was natural to shift gears and start focusing on acquiring various holy grails (which implies an obvious increase in ACPP).

When we zoom in on my February 2023 shipment, it becomes clear why/how the ACPP increases so fast when elevated pieces are the only things left to get:

  • Pilot ProTex: ¥37,073
  • Pentel PXE05: ¥34,500
  • Pilot H-2103: ¥15,000
  • Pilot Sprinter green: ¥11,000
  • Pilot Clutch Point etched: ¥9000
  • Pilot Switch etched stripes: ¥7910
  • Pentel Kerry Tokyo Hands: ¥7500
  • Uni M3-1051 Turquoise: ¥5900
  • Platinum ¥1500 double-knock blue: ¥5500

Each of these pieces is hard to find, and a few of them almost never appear for sale. When you only need a few select pieces to fill out portions of the collection, you’ve got no choice but to swallow a price increase (because greater specificity always costs more, regardless of the domain).


I decided early on to stick with one brand in my collection, one with a rich history. My collection of rOtring items is limited to rOtring as an independent company. So only up to 1997. Another criterion was instruments I used at work prior to computerization. So that meant specific items from Pentel and Staedtler. I still broke my self-imposed limits as I found the wonderful Pilot drafting pencils from the 1980s too cool to ignore. I still have to locate a few rare early rOtring variants from 1978 and 1979 but I have scored all their “cataloged” mechanical pencils, in addition to most of the fountain pens. Also a few 1960s gems such as amazingly designed multi-pens. Where do I go from here? I’ve also become obsessed with the Pentax 110 Auto which is a whole other rabbit hole …
I’m still missing the Pentel PG5 Export variant with silver/chrome hardness dial which I bought, owned and used at work in the late 1970s. So if anyone has one they are willing to part with, I’m here.


in 2021 you bought 148 pencils for 899 yen! How is it possible? The Pilot Clutch Point Etched cost you 9000 yen, did you get it with a sticker?


I believe it’s total price / # of pencils. To get the average per pencil price.

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In June 2021, I bought 148 pencils for an average price of ¥899 per pencil.

And the Pilot Clutch Point etched does not have a sticker.

If you hate the price, please share examples of these going for lower prices :grin:

Longtail becomes Wormtail. :rofl:

It’s fascinating to explore different model ranges from various writing instrument companies, especially when it’s a delightful design. I do find it impressive how some folks have amassed a great deal to fill out those lines. I can appreciate it, but for myself, can’t muster the effort. Especially these days when trying to finish out a model can become extraordinarily expensive. Ultimately, to what end? This is such a niche collecting hobby. If at a later date you tried to sell off a whole collection of a particular model, I expect it would be very difficult to recoup costs… unless the rarest ones were obtained at bargain prices.

What would be great is if someone could endeavor to create a book about vintage mechanical pencils, the more compelling designs and successful models, with their history, then leverage photos from various collectors (with some kind of shared royalty or other compensation). I do have to wonder if one day, mechanical pencils will get more reverence than they have at present. Today it’s still all about the fountain pen. And it’s astonishing how many niche fountain pen makers have appeared on the scene, many making works of art that cost thousands. And they sell! I doubt we’ll ever see that with mechanical pencils, as they’re not as “glamorous,” because of the nature of how lead behaves on paper, relative to ink on paper.